The mess that is media management with Apple devices

Media management across Mac OS X and iOS is a mess.

If you want to find TV Shows on your Mac, you go to iTunes, but on an iPhone or iPad, you go to the Videos app. Podcasts? Also in iTunes on Mac, but in your iPhone they've moved to the Podcasts. Photos? Try explaining the difference between iPhoto on Mac and iPhoto/Photos/Camera on iOS to regular people. Looking for a book? That's easy, you'll find it in iBooks across all your devices. Unless you haven't "moved books from iTunes". Then they'll be in iTunes on your Mac. Well, some of them. Some will be in iBooks depending on where you purchased them from or if they're PDFs.

Hang on... what?

A week ago I was having a coffee with a friend who's not technically savvy. He has been a happy Mac and iPhone user for years, but he's not the type to spend hours figuring out his gadgets and he couldn't care less about things like application preferences and other nerdy stuff like that. He just wants things to work. He is, what most would call, normal. 

Of course, as with most of my non-geek friends, I've become his personal Apple Support assistant, and every time I see him he remembers something geeky he needs help with. Last week he raised an interesting point.

He complained that he just couldn't get his head around where his stuff was at any given time on his Mac and his iPhone.

By stuff he meant media content. Things like music, podcasts, TV shows, movies, books, and photographs.

During the holidays, he downloaded the free content from Apple's 12 Days of Gifts app, and he got confused with where things had ended up. I can't blame him. Even reading the FAQs from the 12 Days app would confuse many people:

Where can I find the gifts I’ve downloaded?
On your computer, you can find your music, TV and film content in your iTunes library and books in your iBooks library. On your iOS device, you can find your music in the Music app, your TV episodes and films in the Videos app, and your books in the iBooks app. Apps will appear on your home screen.

That's messy to begin with, but it gets worse once you start digging deeper.

For example, music videos live in iTunes on the Mac, but on iOS they appear in both the Videos and the Music apps. In Videos they're clearly labeled as music videos, but in Music they're just in there with the rest of the songs. In a way, I guess it makes some sense.

However, books are where things start to get really confusing.

Books, like everything else, used to be in iTunes on the Mac, but the latest update to the Mac OS brought iBooks to Mac OS. You'd think all books are now in iBooks and sync across OS X and iOS. That's true for books purchased from the iBookstore (although you might have to tell iBooks to move them over from iTunes), but it doesn't work as seamlessly with books from elsewhere or with PDFs. Those you have to manually add to each device or sync via iTunes which pulls them from iBooks. See? Confusing.

Even worse, audiobooks aren't considered books apparently, or at least are not worthy of iBooks. Audiobooks stay in iTunes on Mac and in iOS will be in the Music app, which just does my head in.

As I was explaining how all this works go my friend, I drew a version of the table above in an attempt to clarify things.

That's when I realised just how broken content management across Apple devices currently is.

Normal people must be really confused. My mom is currently travelling and can't figure out Photo Stream on her iPhone so she keeps sending us photos via Messages.

I believe the right approach is one app for each media type with a Mac and an iOS version and everything kept in sync via iCloud. Audiobooks should be in iBooks. Photos should make sense to users. And you should be able to read purchased magazines full screen on your 27 inch iMac.

The introduction of dedicated apps for iOS makes me think that's the direction Apple is headed. Maybe we're just in transition at the moment. Maybe in the next OS X update we'll see a counterpart for Music, Podcasts, Videos, etc. But what will be the fate of iTunes then? It's an interesting dilemma.

Halfway through my explanation my friend just gave up. Too hard, he said, and changed the subject.

Week 49: Aperture, OmniFocus and Writing

Apple Aperture and Nik Plugins.

There's weird bug that appears when sending photographs from Apple Aperture over to a Nik Collection plug-in for editing. When you come back to Aperture, the image is either stuck or invisible (you get only grey in the viewer). It seems this only happens on Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks.

I've tried repairing and rebuilding the Aperture Library but that didn't fix the issue. Only quitting and restarting Aperture solved the problem, which isn't really a solution.

A fellow photographer posted a workaround on Aperture Expert that, while not a fix, is much better than restarting.

Learn OmniFocus

Tim Stringer recently announced a new venture called Learn Omnifocus. He describes it as "a site dedicated to supporting people in living fulfilling, productive lives with some help from OmniFocus for Mac & iOS".

You can sign up now to be notified when the site officially launches. I've done it and can't wait to see what he has in store for us.

I've written about Tim before when I shared my takeouts from the OmniFocus Setup presentations. He spoke about how to setup your OmniFocus library based on the main areas of focus in your life. I still keep my library organised that way.

How to write something true

Yuvi Zalkow's latest video shows us step by step, exactly what you must do to write something true.

How to organise iCloud folders by name

Today I realised you can organise folders in iCloud by name, date, or tags. I assume the default is by date (as in modified date) since I'd never changed this before and that's what my Mac is doing.

I'll use Byword as an example, since that's where I just experinced it. I use just three folders. One for the files I'm actively working on, called Writing; one for drafts where I keep new ideas and unfinished drafts that are not urgent; and one where I dump all text files once I'm finished writing and I've published the content elsewhere, called Archives. I specifically put a number in the folder name so they were always in the same order, but today I noticed 03. Archives was first.

iCloud folders organised by name, date, or tag

It's a small thing, but one that really irks me. On instinct, I control-clicked (or right-click) on the gray area and got the option to sort by name, date, or tag. Easy fix.

But I wondered why I'd never notice this before. Turns out the order of folders in Byword for iPhone and iPad is always by name, and I almost always start new documents from an iOS device. In Byword for iOS you can choose to sort documents by date, but it affects only documents, not folders.

Pixelmator 2.2 Blueberry - Mini Review

Pixelmator got an update a few weeks ago to version 2.2 called Blueberry. I didn't write about it at the time because I wanted to have a chance to play with it for a bit first. It was only a point update, so I wasn't expecting much. In my view, it's a mixed bag.

Pixelmator 2.2 Blueberry review

Let's start with the good stuff.

The new Paint Selection Tool is a welcome addition to the tool set. It makes the selection process much faster and is, for the most part, accurate enough. Obviously, it's not as powerful as Photoshop's multiple selection tools (for those wondering), but that's ok. It gets the job done and is a pleasure to use. This is my favourite feature of the new version.

The Light Leak Effect is fun to use and the Instagram crowd will love it. It's like Instagram on steroids with endless possibilities to customise the effect, so it's easy to create your own look. Personally, I don't think I'll use it much because it's not my style, but it's really nicely implemented and fun to play around with.

Pixelmator is still a normal buy-a-license kind of app, as opposed to that BS Adobe is doing with their subscription-only model. Sorry, had to vent on that one a bit.

Now with the not so good.

Most of the other new features are for graphic designers, not photographers. I fear Pixelmator is heading down a "let's be Photoshop and Illustrator combined" road. I believe this is a way to be kinda ok at both, but not great at anything. That's not a good place to be.

What I liked about Pixelmator was that it felt like a true photo editor for photographers. Sure, version 1 was buggy and it was missing many features, but it was heading in the right direction.

Now they're all excited about their new shape tools and vector features. They even "sneaked a feature" that turns Pixelmator into Vectormator. What. The. Hell?

Sure, the designer features are good and work remarkably well. But seriously, how many photographers add squares and butterfly shapes to their photographs? Text, maybe. Sometimes. At the very end of the process. I still think text should be at the bottom of the feature list in an photo editor for photographers.

Where are features like non-destructive adjustment layers? Or real PSD and TIFF support? Or 16 bit? Or a Liquify Tool?

They actually hinted that layer styles were coming in 2013 back in December 2012. Whilst that would be awesome, their communication back then suggested they were putting their efforts into non-photography related features. I even said I felt they were going to "follow the Photoshop path and become a bloat trying to please everyone".

I have to say I'm slightly disappointed with Pixelmator 2.2 Blueberry. It seems Pixelmator is no longer a photographers application. The question will no longer be photographers asking "how good is it as a Photoshop replacement" but it'll be web designers instead.

Still, I'm hopeful. And for $15 bucks I still think everyone should buy it. Maybe if enough of us support the developers they'll have an incentive to add the features photographers want.

Spotlight - Refine search results by Kind

This morning I had to find a specific document that I hadn't used in a couple of years. I couldn't remember where I'd archived it or what the exact file name was. And I needed it now. Right now.

I panicked for a split second. Then I typed what I could remember about the file into Spotlight: two keywords and the application I'd created it in, and there it was.

Apple Spotlight search bar

Spotlight is the search technology built into every Mac and it's quite powerful. It's not only an excellent search engine, but an application launcher, a calculator, a dictionary, and so much more. A quick example, type date:yesterday into Spotlight and it'll show you the applications, documents, folders, etc. you used yesterday. There are many such features that make Spotlight a great tool. The one I use the most is searching by kind.

Searching by Kind in Spotlight

Almost every time I use Spotlight to search for something I know what kind of file I'm after. It's rare that I type in something and think to myself, "I'm not sure if what I'm after is a presentation or a song or an application". In fact, I typically not only know the file type, but the application I used to create it as well.

Spotlight has a handy feature that lets you refine your search results by what it calls "kind".

Apple Spotlight search by kind:application

To pre-qualify your results by kind, just type into Spotlight kind:[type], where "type" can be any of the below. The most common ones are:

kind:application - Searches only applications (kind:app also works)
kind:document - Searches across all document types
kind:image - Searches across all image types
kind:audio - Searches across all audio formats
kind:video - Searches across all video formats
kind:music - Searches only music files
kind:movie - Searches only movie files
kind:folder - Searches only for folder titles

Spotlight lets you get even more granular than that. You can refine to only files created with a specific application, or just music, or even particular file extensions.

kind:keynote - Searches only Keynote presentations
kind:pages - Searches only Pages documents
kind:numbers - Searches only Numbers spreadsheets
kind:omnigraffle - Searches only OmniGraffle documents
kind:mindnode - Searches only MindNode mind maps
kind:pixelmator - Searches only Pixelmator documents
kind:word - Searches only Word documents
kind:powerpoint - Searches only PowerPoint presentations
kind:excel - Searches only Excel spreadsheets
kind:pdf - Searches only PDF documents
kind:jpeg - Searches only images in jpeg format
kind:tiff - Searches only images in tiff format
kind:raw - Searches only images in RAW format
kind:docx - Searches only across recent (.docx) Word files
kind:zip - Searches only zip compressed files

In the case of the document I needed this morning, I knew it was a Keynote presentation. I also knew it was about mobile marketing. And I knew it was a keynote I did for ad:tech Unwired in Sydney. So I typed into Spotlight kind:keynote adtech mobile and voila.

Apple Spotlight refined search by kind:application and keywords

My takeouts from an OmniFocus Setup presentation by Michael Schechter & Thanh Pham

A few weeks ago I published an article describing my takeouts from The OmniFocus Setup presentations. However, I missed one video by Michael Schechter & Thanh Pham that's a slightly different format than the rest. I found it very interesting as well and thought I'd share my learnings from it, so here it is.

Contexts. A group chat covering oddities and niceties by Michael Schechter & Thanh Pham

Michael and Thanh have a very different approach to contexts. Thanh bases them on energy levels (eg. High Energy vs Low Energy), and assigns the most important tasks for the day to the High Energy context. If he gets through these, the work for the day is done and he can move on to the Low Energy tasks, which are not critical and don't require his full attention. He also mentioned using a Creativity context for tasks that need creative thinking.

In contrast, Michael uses only 2 contexts: Work and Home. These divide the projects/tasks related to his day job and everything else (family, hobbies, his website, etc.).

Initially I thought this would make it hard to find specific tasks, but he clarified by explaining he gives tasks distinct names. For example, tasks that would normally be in an "Email" context, he titles "Email Bill about...", or "Waiting for" tasks he titles "Waiting for Bill to do..." and then just searches for "Email" or "Waiting" to group all similar actions.

I rarely search in OmniFocus, so I found Michael's approach intriguing. I did some searches in my own OmniFocus library and realised 2 things: the search in OmniFocus is amazing and I suck at naming tasks. I ended up spending an hour updating titles to be more descriptive and clearer.

What's clever about Michael's approach is that you can not only search for all emails you have to send or all actions you're waiting for, but also all tasks related to Bill, which would show both in the above example. During the talk, I quickly jotted down this which I think encapsulates it well:

If you're meeting with Bill, search for Bill and all "waiting for" and "to tell him" tasks will come up. If it's something that's going to take about a week, put a start date of about a week so it doesn't show up.

It feels like a good substitute for Agendas. At the moment, I have these tasks separated by an "Agenda : Bill" and a "Waiting For" context.

Interestingly, Thanh has a list of people contexts and list of waiting for contexts that mirror each other (e.g. People>Mom and Waiting>Mom). He created a perspective that shows both People and Waiting to quickly see what you need to talk to them about and remind them you're waiting for.

It's fascinating to listen to 2 very different ways to acheive a similar outcome.

During the Q&A, someone asked about priorities. Their views were also very different. Michael doesn't do priorities (or rather, he uses only one). Something is either a priority or it isn't. If it is, he assigns a due date. If it isn't, he doesn't.

Thanh, on the other hand, follows the ABC style by Brian Tracey, where A-have to get done; B-would be nice to finish, but only after A; C don't need to be finished today.

It's worth watching the video, especially if you're struggling with contexts. And as Michael puts it at the start of the presentation, if you're not, you're lying.

Michael Schechter writes at A Better Mess and Thanh Pham writes at Asian Efficiency.

My takeouts from The OmniFocus Setup presentations

Over the last few weeks, I've been going through the presentations from The OmniFocus Setup, the event the Omni Group held on 31 January 2013 at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. They managed to get a lot of very smart people I admire to talk about how they use OmniFocus.

I learned a lot from the presentations and thought it'd be valuable to share my notes. The following is what I wrote down while watching the videos, so it's only my main takeout from each. There is much more content and if you use OmniFocus, I urge you to watch them. Your takeouts will be different from mine.

Do Stuff! by David Sparks

Use start dates to manage projects and tasks so they disappear until it's time to work on them. Use due dates only for tasks that are unquestionably due; things of the "the world will explode if I don't complete this by that exact date" type of tasks. If it's an "I'd like to finish it today" kind of task, it shouldn't have a due date.

The trick is to make these decisions up front, so that when the time comes get to work, only what you should do right now is visible. And what's best, the badges in OmniFocus will have an actual meaning. They'll represent tasks about to be or already overdue.

I heard (or read) David explain this some time ago and immediately integrated it into my process. I haven't looked back.

David writes at MacSparky and hosts the podcast Mac Power Users.

A Fresh Take on Contexts by Sven Fechner

Sven suggests a fresh take on contexts based on time and attention instead of tools and locations. Examples are @Routines, @Short Bursts, @Full Focus.

Getting Things Done, the book by David Allen that started the GTD movement and inspired OmniFocus, was published in 2002. A lot has changed since then and the traditional contexts are no longer relevant to most knowledge workers. We're always online now and Dropbox and iCloud allow us to have access to all our documents everywhere and from any device. Grouping actions by the time we have and the attention we can give them based on our brain power at the time make perfect sense.

I'm experimenting with this approach now and I'm liking it so far. If I only have 30 minutes, it really makes a lot of sense to go through all tasks that can be done quickly irrespective of what tool I need.

Sven writes at SimplicityBliss.

The Creative Task Group by Kourosh Dini

Set up repeating tasks for actions you want to become a habit. For example, if I want to write every day, I can set up a task that repeats 1 day after completion. Each day I see it, I write, I check it off. The next day it'll appear again.

I think it's a great way to establish a habit and I'm going to give it a go. Once it has become second nature I'll remove it from OmniFocus.

Kourosh wrote Using OmniFocus.

Say It, Don’t Spray It; Specific Tasks for Specific Outcomes by Merlin Mann

Think in the Inbox so you don't have to think when you're doing.

That line, right there, says a lot. The inbox can be a dumping ground, but once a task gets moved into a project, it should be fully defined so that when you get to work, you can start straight away. For example, "sort out next holiday" is ok to drop in your inbox, but can't go as is into a project. While it's still in the inbox, define what "sort out" means. Research possible destinations? Choose destination? Define dates? Book travel? Hotel? all of the above? We need to be super specific about each task so there's no ambiguity when the rubber hits the road.

This tip seems so obvious in hindsight, doesn't it? It's one of the most valuable concepts I got from the entire series. After going through my OmniFocus library I encountered way too many ambiguous tasks. I moved them all back to the inbox for proper processing.

Merlin hosts the podcast Back to Work amongst many other endeavours.

Engaged Productivity and the Art of Discardia by Dinah Sanders

A "Today" perspective grouped by "due" and showing only today opened up. Quick, easy, and very useful tip. It's sometimes the little things that make a big difference and this one is certainly one of those.

The perspective I created, based on Dinah's suggestion, shows me only today's items opened up with items due in the past (if I didn't get to them the day before) and the future closed, but only a click away. Less clutter. More focus. Quick action.

Dinah Sanders writes at Discardia.

A More Meaningful To Do List by Mike Vardy

Mike suggests using contexts based on asking yourself "why am I doing this?". For example, a "Practice" or "Mastery" context for something I want to get really good at. Or a "Gratitude" context for keeping a journal. It's an interesting approach although I'm not sure it'll work for me.

Mike writes at Productivityist.

Holistic Productivity by Tim Stringer

Structure your OmniFocus library based on the areas of focus in your life. Start with an analysis of what matters to you. Tim suggests creating a mind map with your areas of focus, which I think is a great idea.

I actually use mind maps a lot and did this a few years ago. It's a great exercise to go through as it clarifies your priorities and what are the areas of your life you really care about. Structuring your OmniFocus library based on this makes perfect sense and helps you filter out projects and tasks that don't matter in the long run. If it doesn't fit in one of your folders, it probably shouldn't even make it to your task list.

Tim writes at Technically Simple.

In summary, I found all the OmniFocus Setup talks informative and worth my time. Each talk had more content than what I wrote here. As I mentioned, these are just the things that resonated with me. I'm sure everyone will take out something different from them. If you use OmniFocus (and you probably do if you've read this far), spend some time watching them.

UPDATE (30/4/13): For some weird reason, I missed one by Michael Schechter and Thanh Pham, which I've written about here.

iA Writer for Mac update

Last week iA Writer for Mac got an update that addressed the 2 main issues I had with this great text editor:

  1. Font size was fixed, so it looked too big on some screens and too small on others.
  2. It didn't have an HTML preview for when I was writing in Markdown.

The second point is a very welcome new feature. However, it's the first one that's really interesting because they managed to solve the problem without having to add a preferences pane. In fact, you can't really set a font size as you'd expect.

Here's how Oliver Reichenstein explains their solution:

Inspired by our deep experience designing for the web, we’ve given Writer for Mac a responsive design, changing the font size based on window width. This maintains the text’s typographic proportions, zooming in and out without reflowing the text. I don’t know why it took us so long to find this obvious solution. However, given that no one else has done it, the simplicity of this solution is perhaps not as obvious as it seems in hindsight.

This is a very clever and out-of-the-box solution. It works well and keeps iA Writer for Mac as simple as always. I really like the lack of preferences. It's always been a huge distraction for me and an easy way to procrastinate while feeling busy.

I've been using iA Writer on all my devices exclusively for the past week and it's awesome. The only other issue I had was that it couldn't copy the rendered HTML to the clipboard. I'm not sure if this is a new feature in this version or it's always been there and I just missed it, but it's there

Temporarily bypass Gatekeeper to install applications from unidentified developers in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion

Gatekeeper is a new security feature in Mountain Lion, Apple's latest operating system. It basically prevents you from installing applications from developers not "identified" by Apple.

In it's default state, Gatekeeper will only allow apps from the Mac App Store or developers that have signed up with Apple to be installed. For the most part, I think this is a good thing.

However, sometimes you do want to install software that Gatekeeper is blocking. For example, I recently installed Apple Aperture on a Mac and one of the plugins I use to export to 500px was blocked. I got the following message saying "Install 500px Aperture Uploader can't be opened because it is from an unidentified developer".

Temporarily bypass Gatekeeper to install applications - Example of Gatekeeper blocking installation.

To bypass this, you can disable Gatekeeper from System Preferences - Security & Privacy - General. But you'll need to remember to change it back afterwards.

An easier way is to just right-click on the installer and choose Open. You'll get the same warning dialog but with an option to Open. Clicking this will bypass Gatekeeper this one time and allow you to install the app without having to change settings.

The order of files and folders in Mac OS X

I like to keep folders and files organised and systematically arranged in my computer. It's important that they're always in the same order so I can quickly find them without having to think about it. Not everyone is as OCD as I am when it comes to this, but those that are might find this useful.

The Mac has a specific order in which it shows folders and files when arranged alphabetically, or as it's called in the Finder in OS X, "sort by name."

Obviously, any files or folders that start with a letter will be sorted alphabetically. And those that start with numbers will be before these. For example, a file named "2012-08-15 something.pdf" will go before one named "something.pdf".

However, that's not enough for me. I want some folders to always be at the top, and some to always be at the bottom. That's where special characters are useful.

This is the order the Mac sorts characters (in Mountain Lion): space, underscore, dash, exclamation, question, at, star, accent, hat, plus sign, open bracket, equal, close bracket, pipe, tilde, numbers, letters, µ, π, Ω, and .

Mac OS X order of characters

Space comes before the letter "A", so do most punctuation marks. I use a space for the 2 folders I keep at the top, an exclamation mark for my "action" folders, and the @ symbol for 2 folders that hold temporary files. The other ones before numbers and letters I don't use.

For the one folder I like to keep at the bottom I use the Apple symbol .

Note that some characters are reserved by the system for specific things and shouldn't be used. For example, files starting with a period are treated as hidden files by OS X.

By the way, here's how you get those 4 characters at the bottom: µ (Option M), π (Option P), Ω (Option Z), and  (Shift-Option K)

My life is so hectic that my computer is like my haven of minimalism. And I like to keep it tidy.